BOOK REPORT / REVIEW:
The Crusades Through Arab Eyes; by Amin Maalouf.
The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, by Amin Maalouf, presents Western readers and students of history with a view of the Crusades that is seldom considered in the West. Eurocentrism is a powerful influence, one that has largely shaped the writing of history that has been accepted (at least tacitly) by much of the world's community of scholars. In this text, however, we are presented with an alternative view of the "facts" of the Crusades, in which then-contemporary Arab chronicles give us an unusual and extremely valuable perspective on the confrontation of Christian western Europe and the Islamic Middle East.
Maalouf's narrative, introduction, and the specific entries themselves demonstrate that there was a sense of genuine confusion among the Arabs, who did not at first comprehend why the strange, militaristic, foreigners were invading their land.
The documents contained in the book suggest that the Arabs found the European invaders to be physically strong and enormous, but hideous and barbaric in their practices. Many, many things about the Crusaders seem to have revolted the Arabs. For example, in 1099, in the area of Ma'arra, Crusaders consumed the corpses of both Saracens and Turks and of dogs - with the Arabs appalled by such practices. They were equally upset with the Crusader's penchant for trials by ordeal and the cruel and irrational medical practices of the Europeans, whose knowledge of medicine, sanitation, and even personal hygiene were significantly behind those of the Islamic world. The chroniclers suggested that the Europeans were, in some critical ways such as personal hygiene and medical care, significantly improved by their prolonged and intimate contact with Islam and its body of knowledge.
What also emerges from the text is the realization that...